Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Battle Of Jutland

Seeing as World War I is back in fashion, here's something I've been meaning to post about for ages.

From Wiki:

At the time, Jellicoe was criticised for his caution and for allowing Scheer to escape. Beatty, in particular, was convinced that Jellicoe had missed a tremendous opportunity to annihilate the High Seas Fleet and win what would amount to another Trafalgar…

The controversy raged within the navy and in public for about a decade after the war. Criticism focused on Jellicoe's decision at 19:15. Scheer had ordered his cruisers and destroyers forward in a torpedo attack to cover the turning away of his battleships. Jellicoe chose to turn to the southeast, and so keep out of range of the torpedoes. If, instead, he had turned to the west, could his ships have dodged the torpedoes and destroyed the German fleet..?


Part of the justification/explanation for Jellicoe throwing in the towel and going home even though his fleet probably outnumbered and outgunned the Germans, thus earning himself an undeserved reputation as a bit of a coward, is not mentioned in that section of the Wiki entry and is a bit more prosaic than that.

The point was that even though people had worked out how to send Morse messages by radio ("wireless") twenty years earlier and the German navy had adopted the technology, the British Fleet still communicated using flags, making it more or less impossible to operate a fleet after dark. They could have used lights, I suppose, but that gives away your position.

The awesome Flags Of The World site explains.

15 comments:

The Stigler said...

I wish I could say I was shocked, but as some people in the Royal Navy thought that submarines were "unsporting", it doesn't surprise me.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, submarines are unsporting! We got our own back at Taranto though (OK, that was the next war).

Bayard said...

If it was good enough for Nelson...

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, when Nelson was in business, both sides only used flags and battles were held, by mutual agreement, during daylight hours.

Apart from that episode with the fire ships, of course.

Bayard said...

Pity the Navy didn't realise that things had moved on since Trafalgar.

On the subject of submarines, the Navy's answer to the German submarine threat, was to take some obsolete ships, give then five depth charges each and tell them they were "submarine hunters". These ships had the largest turning circle of all the ships in the Navy; the Germans used to lead them a dance, then surface out of range of their guns and laugh at them. My grandfather served on board one of these ships.

DBC Reed said...

Beatty ,poster boy of the Navy, was after Jellicoe's job which he eventually got.Mind you two of his ships exploded at the start of the battle, I believe because the lifts bringing up the shells from below decks were n't fire proof and direct hits on the turrets flashed through to the magazines.Another design triumph for the Navy which got most of the military spending.
HG Wells no less thought that submarines would never work;he was also the pompous prat who said it would be a war to end all wars.
The German Navy did stay in port for the rest of the war leading to a nice mutiny in Kiel.

Bayard said...

The German navy were also masters of design: their ships were separated into watertight compartments by bulkheads, so that you had to come up to deck level to get from one compartment to another. This made them unsuitable for anything but the shortest cruise away from port.

H said...

The Germans needed to annihilate us, but we did not need to annihilate them. So Jellicoe's caution was entirely right.

H said...

PS Of course, Taranto was splendid, and the Japanese took note, with catastrophic consequences, for them!

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, defence is never as glamourous as attack so got less emphasis. Did your grandad survive it?

DBC, yes, the German fleet stayed in port, which was an outstanding result.

H, correct, IMHO Jellicoe did exactly the right thing, not having any realistic alternative anyway.

SumoKing said...

1. Naval warfare is not land warfare.

You use your navy to blockade and strangle your enemy, just ask Napoleon or the massive Celestial Empire of the far east that was choked into surrender by the admiralty.

2. German ships did not need to have crews live on them for extended time. I.e. when you fleet only operates in the north sea your sailors can sleep ashore in barracks. When your ships need to sail to places like Australia and Hong Kong this is not an option so you need living space aboard.

3. British ships, at least under Jackie fisher, were built to hit hard at the expense of armor. German ships were built to be sturdier but with smaller guns (consequently the obsolete Ramillies was able to face down the italian navy single handedley and later scare off German commerce raiders in the Atlantic)

4. The Grand fleet was ready to fight after Jutland with 4 hours notice. The High seas fleet took weeks refitting.

5. Beatty! Beaty decided that rate of fire was the main thing to worry about and as such ordered the removal of the flash proof doors leading to the magazines to speed up shell handling. On his own ship, his chief gunnery officer was transferred down to fife from Skappa flow and flat out threatened to return to Jellicoe if the doors on Beatty's ship were not replaced. Which they were on HMS Lion, and which probably saved the ship when it's Q turret was blasted to bits.


JohnM said...

It's said that Jellicoe was the "only man on either side who could lose the war in a single afternoon". That captures entirely the idea that Britain didn't need to defeat the German navy so much as contain it.

Mark Wadsworth said...

SK, ta for extra background, which all tends to confirm my own views.

JM: "Britain didn't need to defeat the German navy so much as contain it"

Exactly, in which Jellicoe did a splendid job - after that, very few British sailors died, very few British warships were sunk, job done.

Bayard said...

"after that, very few British sailors died,"

Which is probably why my grandfather was on active service throughout the entire war and survived, having never seen a man killed in action.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, exactly, that's one of many reasons why we should praise Jellicoe.